COLLEGE FOOTBALL WEEK 6: 38th Parallel Games
Bob Stoops’ chief malady in recent years has fluctuated. His teams seemed to struggle on the road. His teams couldn’t win a bowl game.
Here’s a new one. His teams can’t win on neutral turf. Starting with the USC Orange Bowl in January, the Sooners are 5-8 in neutral stadiums: 1-3 vs. Texas, 1-4 in bowl games, now even the Brigham Young egg laid in September.
They’re all intertwined, of course. The bowl problem is a neutral-field problem. The Texas problem (if OU loses Saturday, it most definitely has a Texas problem) is a neutral-field problem.
Think about it. The most important games on the schedule almost always are neutral-field games. Texas, Big 12 title game, bowl game. They all are trophy games, which is why the Sooners have taken to having their picture shot in front of the scoreboard after victories, though admittedly, OU hasn’t cleared Kodak’s shelves in recent years.
Stoops, of course, started out like a house-a-fire on neutral fields. Before USC, Stoops’ record on neutral turf was 12-4, and two of those losses came in 1999.
That makes Stoops 17-12 overall in neutral-turf games.
And here’s the fun part. There are some coaches who can easily be compared to Stoops. Three other jobs have a similar schedule cadence to OU’s: Florida, Georgia and Texas. All play a neutral-site regular-season game against a bitter rival. All play in a conference with a championship game in a pro stadium. All then proceed to a bowl. So here are the comparisons.
* Florida’s Urban Meyer is 8-2 in neutral-site games. He’s started out very much like Stoops. National title in his second year, back to contend for more very soon.
* Georgia’s Mark Richt is 9-9 in neutral-site games. Richt seems beloved in Athens, Ga. He was cagey; Richt didn’t win a national title early and set his bar too high.
* Texas’ Mack Brown is 14-11 in neutral-turf games. But here’s the rub. Brown is 9-1 starting in January 2005. When Brown took his team to the Rose Bowl in December 2004, the Longhorns were 5-10 in neutral-site games. But now Brown has won five straight bowls, has gone 3-1 vs. OU and won the only Big 12 title game he’s reached during that time.
Bob Stoops is not in any kind of hot water at Oklahoma. That’s not what I’m saying. He does have disgruntled fan base, to some extent, most of which doesn’t want him or even his coaches gone. That fan base just wants to win some neutral-site games against teams from outside the Big 12 North.
Last week, I spent a few days in the Florida Keys. After the Miami game, we drove down to Key West, the southernmost point of the Continental U.S.
Going to the Keys is a great geography lesson. Driving to Key West, you’re going more west than south. Key West is farther west than Tampa.
Anyway, this always has been my picture of the Keys. Long stretches of engineering genius; mile after mile of highway bridges stuck in the middle of the Atlantic, punctuated by an occasional respite stop.
Wrong. The Florida Keys is a series of 1,700 islands, though most aren’t connected by roads. Driving down U.S. Highway 1, you probably go through 50-60 keys, most connected by a short bridge no longer than the bridge that spans the Oklahoma River. The Seven Mile Bridge is the only part of the trip that is extensive travel over water.
Most of the trip down the keys, you can see water on at least one side, sometimes both. But the land is inhabited not just with opulent homes or resorts, but towns and villages. A couple of them are charming; most are not. Take away the water, and it’s not unlike driving through west Texas.
Key West is a gorgeous, historic, funky tourist town 90 miles from Cuba. You enter the city of about 25,000 from the northeast, and it looks like Fort Lauderdale or something, with Ford dealerships and KFC’s dotting the terrain.
But down into town, you reach the historic district, Duval Street, which leads to Front Street, and the historic seaport.
It’s an interesting place. I’ll tell you more about it.
TEN BIGGEST LOSERS OF THE WEEK
10. Indiana: The Hoosiers played Oklahoma State in the 2007 Insight Bowl, but that marginal success is long gone. The Hoosiers opened the season with unimpressive victories over Eastern Kentucky, Western Michigan and Akron, then almost won at Michigan before falling 36-33. But Virginia, a struggling team itself, routed IU 47-7, stamping Indiana as a possible selection for worst team from a BCS conference.
9. Rushers: Weekly passing leaders often lose. Weekly rushing leaders rarely. But last week, three of the top five rushing games were turned in by players from losing teams. Memphis’ Curtis Steele (240 yards vs. UTEP) and Oregon State’s Jacquizz Rodgers (189 yards vs. Stanford) were winners. But North Texas’ Lance Dunbar (187 yards vs. Louisiana-Lafayette), Utah State’s Robert Turbin (184 yards vs. New Mexico State) and Auburn’s Ben Tate (184 yards vs. Arkansas) were losers.
8. UCLA: The Bruins were in position for a big upset, leading Oregon 3-0 at halftime. But the Ducks’ Kenjon Barner returned the opening kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown, 13 seconds later Talmadge Jackson returned an interception 32 yards for a TD and, after a UCLA fumble, Jeff Maehl scored on a 20-yard screen pass. Oregon had taken a 21-3 lead in less than four minutes and went on to a 24-10 victory.
7. Saturday nights in Baton Rouge: LSU hadn’t lost a Saturday night home game since 2002, a streak of 32 straight. But top-ranked Florida pinned a 13-3 defeat on the Tigers. A year ago, LSU lost home games to Georgia, Alabama and Ole Miss, but all in the afternoon.
6. Ron Zook: The heat is rising on the Illinois coach, who is 18-34 in his fifth year and 1-4 this season. Zook got the Illini to the Rose Bowl two years ago, but that promise looks far away. Zook benched veteran quarterback Juice Williams against Michigan State in what appears to be a desperation move - replacement Eddie McGee completed just two of 11 passes for 31 yards and an interception.
5. Gus Malzahn: The deposed Arkansas offensive coordinator from a few years ago returned to the Ozarks with a mighty Auburn offense. But the Razorbacks shut down Auburn, roaring to a 34-3 lead before the Tigers rallied. Auburn finished with 375 total yards.
4. Georgia defense: Having given up 37 points to South Carolina and 41 to Arkansas in victories, the Bulldogs finally cracked. They were rolled 45-19 by Tennessee. Ineffective Vol QB Jonathan Crompton had a career game, completing 20 of 27 for 310 yards and four touchdowns. With games remaining against Florida, Auburn and Georgia Tech, 3-3 Georgia could be looking at a .500 season.
3. Blaine Gabbert: In September, the Missouri quarterback was just drawing comparisons not just to his predecessor, Chase Daniel, but to, ahem, John Elway. On a cruddy night in Columbia, Gabbert had a fourth quarter to forget, throwing back-to-back interceptions that helped Nebraska storm back from a 12-0 deficit to a 27-12 victory. Gabbert’s numbers (17 of 43, 134 yards) were not exactly Elwayian.
2. Cody Hawkins: The son lost his job before the father lost his. Colorado quarterback Cody was benched during a dreadful performance against Texas (6-of-18, 68 yards, two interceptions), and his dad, beleaguered CU coach Dan Hawkins, says Tyler Hansen will start for the Buffaloes.
1. Mike Stoops: The Arizona coach had a chance to get his team to 5-0 in the Pac-10. The Wildcats, 1-0 already in the league and with three straight home games coming, none against USC or Oregon, had a 33-21 lead with three minutes to play. But Washington quarterback Jake Locker threw a touchdown pass with 2:55 left, then UW’s Mason Foster intercepted a deflected pass off the foot of ‘Zona’s Delashaun Dean and returned it 37 yards for the winning TD in a 36-33 verdict.
SEAFOOD, EAT FOOD
I love fish. I don’t love TO fish, but I love eating fish. In seven days away, I had seafood six times. Missed only on game day.
I had lobster. Eating a full lobster as an entree, I can remember only doing once before, 25 years ago in Los Angeles. But we stopped at the Fish House in Key Largo, which is famous in song and movie and now, in my mind, for a cool restaurant.
Any place that has strung lights on the ceiling and a basket of crackers on every table is my kind of joint. This place offered a special; $14.95 for a one-pound lobster dinner, or $19.95 for 1.5-pound lobster dinner. I bit on the latter.
It was excellent. I’m glad I ate it. But I’m not sure I would eat lobster again. It’s good, but I’ve never understood why lobster is more expensive than giant prawns or mahi-mahi. They’re all good to me.
I also got an appetizer of conch. Key West is known as the Conch Republic - it facetiously declared its independence in the 1980s when the government set up a road block leading out of the keys, to search for drugs. Conch is sort of like calamari. Stringy. Didn’t taste bad, but I didn’t see much to it.
The Fish House was so good, we stopped back by on our way out of the Keys. I had mahi-mahi and a giant shrimp appetizer. Outstanding.
Down in Key West, you can eat right on the wharf. I found those places to be a little pricey and not as good as up in Largo. But I did discover a fabulous new item. Lobster rolls at Turtle Kraals.
Turtle Kraals was the best of the Key West places we dined. Its lobster rolls are just like egg rolls, only stuffed with lobster. I like egg rolls big and fast and piping hot, like I get at Canton Palace in Del City, and that’s the way these were.
Key West also is known for key lime pie, which my wife just loves. I’m not that crazy about key lime pie; give me blueberry pie any day. But we had key lime every day and maybe twice on Sunday, I can’t remember. We had it with meringue, we had it with whipped cream, we had it plain.
They’ve even got a series of stores. Key Lime Pie Company, where you can buy stuff to make key lime pie. We did make a purchase. Usually, that kind of stuff gets spilled, and your jeans smell like lime juice, but so far I haven’t discovered any calamities.
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